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The Water Crisis In Chennai, India: Who's To Blame And How Do You Fix It?

Reservoirs are dry in India's sixth biggest city. Municipal taps work only a few hours a day. Trains are delivering emergency water supplies.
A youth scouts for mud crabs and snakehead fish on the parched bed of Chembarambakkam Lake on the outskirts of Chennai, India. Source: Arun Sankar

One of Chennai's biggest reservoirs, Chembarambakkam Lake, is now a cracked, windswept mud flat. There are swarms of insects as big as hummingbirds, stray goats nibbling at dust-coated shrubs and what look like a few water buffalo — but no water. A massive pipe that's supposed to carry water into the city is empty.

There are similarly parched scenes at Chennai's three other main reservoirs. This city of nearly 10 million — India's sixth largest — has almost run out of water. Municipal taps work only a few hours a week. Trains are arriving every few days with emergency water supplies. Residents who can afford it buy truckloads of water from private tankers that carry it from bore wells — deep, narrow wells typically equipped with a pump — drilled farther and farther out into the countryside, way beyond the city limits.

But Chennai got (about 30 inches). So how did this happen?

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